Demo of Julie's Bible Reference Library

Friday, September 23, 2011

We Are Not Abandoned

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me ... The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
2 Timothy 4:16-18 (ESV)

Treasured friend,

In my personal devotions for the past several weeks, I've been focusing my attention on Paul's words to his spiritual son, Timothy, spoken with intensity and tenderness and challenge in the letter we call 2 Timothy. Toward the close of this book--which was written toward the close of Paul's life (rather like the changing of the guard)--the Scripture quoted above captivated me. I suppose that's partially because, as you and I both know, so often we caregivers feel exactly like Paul did.

All deserted me, is what he wrote. I'm in this alone--is what he felt.

Now, it's true that Paul was being dragged in chains into the venues of pagan magistrates--so, truly his plight was more immediately life-threatening than ours. But the emotion he expressed is so often the same as we experience in our daily drudgery.

Which of us, in the middle of the most intense caregiving seasions, hasn't felt what Paul is expressing here? I'm here--and all the people who said they'd stand with me are somewhere else. For some, helping me was too challenging--too saddening, so they went away. For some, other priorities drew them elsewhere--to their own work. For others--and this is the worst--my tragic predicament may even bring an opportunity to wring their hands in glee, as they stand by and watch me dangle here on the precipice of despair.

That's the situation Paul paints for us. He, the great apostle of faith, experienced the depths of discouraging abandonment. I don't know about you, but that makes me snap to attention to discover how he made sense of it and how he found the strength to hold onto faith in the midst of it. I want to know--because down deep that's how I want to face my day today.

First, he forgave and prayed for those who deserted him. Don't let God hold this against them, he prayed. Sounds a lot like Jesus on the cross: Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing. Come to think of it, Jesus felt that same abandonment--our same abandonment--as He prayed in Gethsemane and hung on the cross. We couldn't find two better examples to follow.

It's tempting to soothe my hurt feelings by harboring bitterness against those who ought to be a help and even moreso those who have become hindrances instead. But the apostle (and Christ before him) would have none of that. Because that would lead to wallowing--and perhaps even to sin if I allow it to take root. Let this sin against me go, God. Don't count it against their account. It takes some serious spiritual strength to pray that prayer.

Then, Paul turned his attention toward a greater truth than what he could touch with his hands or see with his eyes or hear with his ears: I may have looked alone. I may have felt alone. But I was never alone--because the most important One of all was with me. Not only with me, but standing shoulder-to-shoulder beside me, accompanied by His vast throngs of warriors. And in His mere presence, He gave me the strength and courage and energy and ability I needed. I know it came from Him--because in myself I was empty, but at once I found myself strong enough to endure. I've been there, too, finding a resevoir of strength--and wisdom--at my disposal, with no earth-based explanation of how it got there. Yes, we may feel alone, but for the Christian, we can place our life-grip firmly on Christ's promise, I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

Finally, Paul looked ahead at the outcome he knew to be true, even if it was absolutely hidden from his sight in that moment: God's still greater than my circumstance. He promised He'd get me out of this and set me firmly into my home in His heavenly kingdom. I know that to be true. So, I'll hold to that promise in faith--and bring Him praise and glory right now. That's what I will do. And I'll continue to do it until my faith becomes sight.

I hope and pray that Paul's example has strengthened your resolve, as it has mine. Our challenge is to place our eyes on the God Who is with us and in us--and press on into our day. You may feel alone, as may I, but we're not alone--not by a longshot!

Blessings and prayers,

Julie

© 2011, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

When You Weep

Treasured friend,

Jeremiah—I’ve always held this particular prophet of the Most High God in the highest esteem. In fact, if you asked me who my favorite Bible characters are, Jeremiah would be up there in the top ten. For sure.

Surprised? Let me tell you why.

God called Jeremiah as a young man (we who think of him at all often remember him as a scraggly bearded old man thrown in a pit by a jealous and angry king’s henchmen—but in the first chapter of his prophetic book, he is the young son of a priest). Not only did God call Jeremiah, but He chose for this tenderhearted youngster a mighty difficult road. One that would cause the prophet’s heart to break time and time again over the lot of God’s people in an era of great terror—an era when the nation would be overrun with enemies because of the people’s grievous sin.

Being faithful to this calling would overwhelm Jeremiah to the point that he would be remembered to posterity as the weeping prophet.

I can relate to a weeping prophet. I can relate to heartbreak—especially the heartbreak of watching those I love suffer. In our cases, as caregivers of our aging parents, the suffering is a result of the normal scheme of life on this fallen planet. No matter—the emotional exhaustion of the tragic circumstances we can’t control too often sends us off to a pit of weeping every bit as deeply as Jeremiah.

But it isn’t just Jeremiah’s weeping that grabs me and won’t let go. It’s the words God spoke to and through him that speak to me. God didn't fault the prophet's frequent questions of, are You sure about this God? Did You really mean for this to befall Your people? (Sound like any of your prayers? Could be some of mine on nearly any day of the week.) Instead, God spoke calm and comfort to the prophet--counter-cultural calm and comfort. Comfort that sustained the prophet through moments when the storms of chaos swirled and uprooted his entire world.

So, this morning, I got out one of my old, well-worn, crumble-spined Bibles and scanned the book of Jeremiah for just a few of the words God spoke through the weeping prophet— that have touched my heart and sustained me over the years. I share them with you in hopes you’ll catch a fresh, reassuring glimpse of the way God is at work in the most difficult circumstances of your life.

Jeremiah 1:7; 9  But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.” … 9 Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.”

Jeremiah 1:19 I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you.”

Jeremiah 9:23-24 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

Jeremiah 29:12-14 “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the LORD”.

Jeremiah 31:16-17  Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD …17 There is hope for your future, declares the LORD.”

Jeremiah 31:25 “For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”

So, my caregiving compatriot, you just heard if from God’s own lips: there is a reward for your work; there is a hope for your future.

And, even more than that, I especially love that last word from Jeremiah 31:25—about how tenderly God says He’ll treat the weary and languishing soul. I know weary. So do you. Let’s covenant together to take that promise from God into our caregiving tasks today. Let’s commit to each other that every time we feel exhausted and overwhelmed—weary of the journey—we’ll let God know about it, at that very instant.

God, I’m weary. Soul weary. You promised to satisfy and replenish me. Please, do that for me in this exhausting moment. And, I ask You to do the same for every one of my caregiving friends who are feeling the same fatigue just now.

When God answers your prayer, will you drop me a note to let me know about it? Your gift of refreshment from Him will be an encouragement and uplift to me.

Blessings and prayers,

Julie

© 2011, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why Does God Allow ...?

What kind of a God wouldn’t do something about this awfulness in my life?
Why doesn’t God do what I want Him to do?
Why doesn’t God answer me?
Why should I have faith in a God Who doesn’t give me what I want?
Why should I even think God is out there at all?

Treasured Friend,

Standing by while those we love suffer causes our fragile hearts to form this litany of questions. That's natural. Yet left unchecked, they’ll lead us down a slippery slope. Don't believe me? See if you recognize the slide in this story:
It wasn’t long ago that I picked up a bestselling autobiography. The author was young when she prayed in a time of crisis. But God didn’t do what she asked. So she penned the line, “That was the day I lost my faith.” I stuck with the book for a while (although I haven’t finished it yet); and as far as I’ve gotten, in several hundred pages and decades of life, she hasn’t yet seen her faith overcome that tragic loss. But that one line has stayed with me, perhaps because of its hopelessly misguided conclusion.

There’s a problem here. A lack of maturity, I suppose, that’s common to us all. A temper tantrum of sorts, a spoiled child pounding our fists at the heavens and irreverently threatening, If You won’t do what I want, I’m going to make You suffer. In fact, I’m going to make You downright miserable until You tire of my hissy fit and give me what I demand. And if You still won't do it, then ... then ... I won't like You anymore! So there! Take that!

What I’ve found is that the problem of suffering and the questions it causes to arise in our hearts bring to the surface the human propensity to see the world—and God—as revolving around us, rather than the opposite. The ancients—although they had a less sophisticated base of scientific knowledge—had infinitely more wisdom about these things than we do. They suffered profusely. God didn’t give them the immediate deliverance they asked for. Their loved ones suffered, too. But they came to an altogether different conclusion about God and how He answers prayer.

“When I consider the heavens, the moon and the stars that You created,” David penned, “What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You visit him?” (from Psalm 8). This from the man who saw his camp plundered, his wife and children carried away by the enemy. And yes, he questioned—but he didn’t throw away his faith with the tragedy. Instead of looking inside himself for the answers, he looked up. And he was absolutely amazed—awed—astounded by Whom he saw.

With David, I look around at this world—my world—and I realize how small I am. In its suffering, its decay, its temporary nature, I see the contrast between myself and God. God’s power is infinite, mine is insignificant. God’s authority is transcendent; mine is puny. God is eternal, I’m not--I had a beginning, and from this earth's perspective one day soon I'll have an end. It’s really all about Him, and not nearly so much about me. What a difference that perspective shift makes in the kinds of questions my heart asks.

Then there’s good old Job and the line that is packed with the depths of suffering and the heights of faith: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15, NKJV). As much as it pains me to admit it, God is free to do what He wishes with me—and even with my loved ones. He is, because He is the Creator, Sustainer, unrivaled Ruler of the entire universe. This is Who He is, whether or not I acknowledge it to be so.

Why doesn’t God do what I tell Him to do? Because He’s God and I’m not. He sees a greater scheme—and holds a grander plan in the palms of His hands. I play a role in those plans because of His great mercy, but my role is small—and the entire production is ever so far beyond anything that I am.

What does this have to do with you and the suffering you’re undergoing beside your aging loved one today? When you come to the moment of asking those questions about why God hasn’t given you the answered prayer you’ve sought, I pray you come to the same conclusion as the Psalmist and Job. That conclusion is this: the amazing thing isn’t that you haven’t received what you wanted from God, but rather that the awesome Creator of all things invites you to carry your requests to Him, to trust Him, to know Him. When you come to know Him personally, through His Son Jesus Christ and the Spirit Who lives inside everyone who believes, you will be able to trust Him with the outcome of events in this tired old world that's all subject to continued decay.

So, voice your questions to your Creator/Friend, and then say with me, and with old King David, “Oh Lord, our Lord, Your magnificent name transcends the earth and overflows the heavens” (adapted from Psalm 8). This magnificent God is the best answer to any question your heart could form.

Blessings and prayers,
Julie

© 2011, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com